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How important is a strong environmental policy in the upcoming US election?

In a recent editorial, the Washington Post announced their endorsement of the former vice-president Joe Biden in the upcoming Presidential election. This decision was largely based on his stance towards climate change. It wrote: “On climate change, where Trump denigrates scientists and dismisses warnings about a grave threat to humanity, just as he did with Covid-19, Biden understands that no issue is more fundamental to the long-term prosperity of the nation or the world. He would make it a priority of his administration.” This endorsement places environmental issues at the heart of the presidential election. But, how important will they be when voters take to the polls?

   President Donald Trump has faced extensive criticism for his attitude towards climate change – previously calling it a man-made “hoax”. The President chose to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, stating that it was an “unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses and taxpayers” and doubting its efficacy in actually dealing with climate issues.

The policies of the Trump Administration have largely been focused on energy independence based on fossil fuels. It has also rescinded a large number of environmental regulations. The President has, however, also overseen a significant improvement in air quality and approved major investment in conservation.

President Donald Trump has faced extensive criticism for his attitude towards climate change

In recent months, wildfires have devastated the state of California. While Trump’s political opponents attribute this to climate change,  Trump has blamed poor forest management (in truth, both parties are partially correct).

During the first presidential debate, Trump was asked what he would do to tackle climate change if he were re-elected. He answered: “I believe we have to do everything we can to have immaculate air, immaculate water, and do whatever else we can that’s good.” When pushed on his administration’s relaxation of fuel economy standards, Trump described it as “a tiny difference” that would not produce a significant impact.

   But, what about his rival? What is Joe Biden’s stance on environmental issues? Previously, Biden has committed to enacting the measures outlined in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, which would radically reshape US society in order to transform energy production and consumption. However, during the debate Biden offered a different stance. He said: “No, I don’t support the Green New Deal. I support the Biden plan I put forward, which is different than what [Trump] calls the Green New Deal.”

The climate is a major focus of Biden’s presidential campaign

   In June, Biden unveiled a $2 trillion, 10-year proposal that would promote clean energy in America, whilst connecting the environment and the economy. If the plan were effective, the USA would have a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. Biden’s campaign website says that the US would become a leader in climate issues again – Biden would recommit the country to the Paris Climate Accords, and use American economic leverage to force other countries to be greener. The climate is a major focus of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

   Despite this, Biden’s policy on fracking remains ambiguous. The vice-president has claimed that he is “not banning fracking, no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me”, but he has also said that his administration would “make sure it is eliminated”.  Attacking Biden in this way is important for the Trump campaign as fracking is a big industry in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, employing around 600,000 people. Biden has previously come under fire for his attitude towards these workers, a constituency base he desperately needs.

In a time of more obvious crises, climate change is likely to remain on the backburner.

   So, how important is climate likely to be in the 2020 election? Frankly, with Covid-19 still hammering the country and riots in many big cities, the green question is likely to be swept to one side. Climate issues are not going to sway voters one way or the other, and the climate question is just a solid excuse for a newspaper that was never going to endorse Trump to attack him once again. Should it be important? Yes, of course. But will it be? I doubt it – both candidates are eager to turn the vote into a referendum on their opponent and, in a time of more obvious crises, climate change is likely to remain on the backburner.

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